Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Special Hearing of the National Defense and Foreign Affairs

Parliamentary Committee

Defense Minister Evangelos Venizelos briefs the MPs on the events in Libya

The overall situation

left-red-arrowOver the last few weeks we have been witnessing impressive –I’d say historic- developments in the Mediterranean region, in the Middle East, in North Africa and many Gulf countries. We see history in the making. The situation in the Arab world is changing and to a large extent we see collapsing stereotypes –under the scope of which we used to see things over the past few years, especially since the fall of Communism and the emergence of a new global balance of power.

New societies and demographic phenomena that emerge have little to do with the European standards. We can have an ambitious and long discussion about the deeper causes of those changes that appear to be, nonetheless, democratically led, demanding citizen participation in political power. For a country like Greece and for a continent such as Europe, who claim to exercise a principle-based policy, it is very important to express our awe and satisfaction, because those universal ideological characteristics remain alive. One can not be but positive, opposite the demand for democratic participation, for the rule of law and for the respect of human rights.


Of course, analyzing those societies based on the model of the western Society of Principles and Economy is a badly meant “Orientalism”. It is a perception with dangerous and arrogant elements in it.

On the other hand, there is no doubt that there are tribal contradictions and a religious element. Those affect attitudes, the way of life and the lens through which a society sees things in the world. That is why I would say that we have to be extremely parsimonious, cautious and chary in drawing conclusions. In Egypt, Tunisia and Libya there’s one kind of situation. In Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen and lately in Syria and Jordan there is another.

In any case, the region’s major problems can no longer be interpreted in the same way. The basic historical problem, which is the Middle East issue, is now cast under a different light. Undoubtedly, wit those developments in the Arab world in mind, Israel has it own demands for safety, its own fears and its own strategic choices that we must take under consideration, because our analysis must include many parameters.

Greece is a country with close and traditional ties with the Arab world. It is a country that understands the feelings and the situation in the Mediterranean and it is a country that will always be geographically close to the crisis area. On the other hand, Greece is a western and European country and a country that wants to be in the mainstream of developments. It’s a country that has its own national interests and priorities.

The major issue for Greece is national security, the situation in the Aegean Sea and the Eastern Mediterranean region. I particularly underline the Eastern Mediterranean region because without it we cannot fully comprehend the Cyprus issue. Therefore, we must take under consideration all the data that for us is vital and configures the map from our viewpoint.

The four phases of international intervention

In today’s discussion I will focus on Libya by necessity, because it is the only case that has set in motion so many things. Among all the issues that I previously mentioned, the Libyan issue is the only case where we saw so specific and strong UN Security Council Resolutions. And it is the only case that has mobilized both the West and the East, and NATO too, in a major military operation that is also forcing Greece to face some dilemmas. Greece must take -and has indeed taken- important political decisions both for the country and the region.

I’d like to remind you that when the crisis in Libya commenced the main issues were the evacuation of foreign citizens who wanted to leave Libya for reasons of security and the deployment of operations to provide first aid, aiming at blocking an uncontrolled flow of illegal immigration that Greece would have been, ipso facto, a destination of. So Greece had both some good reason and an obligation to take initiatives towards the successful outcome of evacuation operations and to block the flow of illegal immigration.

It is within this framework that C-130 aircrafts operated and helped evacuate every Greek citizen out of Libya as well as citizens from other countries. A characteristic example of the latter was Greece’s intercession towards freeing three Dutch soldiers who had been captured by Libyan forces. Also, the Greek merchant marine fleet had interceded in order to provide evacuation services for citizens from other countries, out of Libya. The most distinctive example of that was the evacuation operation for Chinese and Bangladeshi citizens which was, I think, very successful despite some dramatic incidents that happened before our eyes and saddened us all. Those incidents show the degree of desperation of some immigrants who seek “a place under the sun” and cannot find it anywhere, neither in Africa nor in Europe.

Following that phase, a second phase was then set in motion. A significant moment was the first decision by the UN Security Council: Resolution 1970/2011. That decision imposed an arms embargo on Libya, requested that the International Court of Justice initiate a process for indicting Col. Qaddafi, imposed a clause barring exit from the country for Qaddafi’s family and government members and “froze” the assets and bank accounts of the Libyan government and the Qadaffi family. From UNSCR 1970 to the introduction, in a third phase, of UNSCR 1973 a great deal of time passed. During that period the international community felt somehow uncomfortable, and we witnessed the evolution of the use of force against citizens of Libya: police brutality turned into heavily militarized brutality and finally into war brutality.

This is a distinctive characteristic which we must seriously take under consideration. Any form of violence, of course, is unacceptable and illegal but certainly there is a difference between common police violence, heavy police violence, the use of the military for imposing repressive police measures and war-like operations against the citizens of a country by the regime that is actually running it (to the degree that that is possible).

Fundamental International Law ideas and institutions are being put to test in Libya because, in the end, the question is who controls the country and who is legally competent to speak on behalf of the country in international fora. There is no doubt that none of this has been clear in Libya, for a long time now. There’s a problem of international legitimacy for the regime. It is the problem of organized and concentrated military violence against citizens. The effective control of the regime over the country’s territory is being questioned.

All that –along with the persistent request by the Arab League to impose a no-fly zone in Libya to protect the unarmed population and to help deploy the humanitarian operations -was obviously taken under consideration. In the end, the global, the international, balance of power led to UNSCR 1973, which is a decision taken amid numerous abstentions but without any vetoes. It’s important to remember that only two members of the Security Council abstained without using their veto powers. UNSCR 1973 invokes Chapter VII of the UN Charter: the competencies of the UN to order and legitimize the use of international force in order to enforce a decision taken by it.

Despite the way that UNSCR 1973 came into force, the international community appeared to be unprepared to enforce the Resolution in an organized and uniform way. More specifically, the most effective and experienced international –or to be precise, regional- organization that could use this Resolution to mobilize its own organized military apparatus as an alliance of defense and security, NATO, could not be mobilized immediately and on time. This happened because certain Security Council members had expressed their wish that the operational initiative be taken by a group of states, an alliance of states that were in agreement in doing so without putting to action the institutional and operational frame of NATO.

This is how, following UNSCR 1973, the Parisconference took place and how the group of countries that participate in the operations came into life. A coalition of the allied states took military action in Libya by invoking the Security Council Resolution calling for an arms embargo and a no-fly zone in the area of Libya close to the Mediterranean and, gradually, as we’ll see later, in the entire Libyan territory without exceptions.

The fact that that a Security Council Resolution had come into force -a decision that according to Greek legal order is directly and immediately implementable- without a mobilization of NATO’s apparatus however, put Greece before serious dilemmas about whether and how the country should participate in this initiative and about what its level of participation would be –on the one hand within NATO and on the other within the frame of the pre-NATO operations that had commenced and were already being deployed in Libya.

The Greek involvement

You are aware of the position of the Greek government following the meeting of the Government Council on Foreign Affairs and Defense (KYSEA), a decision that was made available to the Press and the Parliament during a parliamentary session that took place on the Greek Prime Minister’s initiative. I repeat this position in brief: Greece, under its policy to formulate its international strategy and its foreign and defense policy upon the invocation of international legitimacy, is obliged to respect and implement the Security Council Resolution, precisely because it exercises a principle-based policy. The Resolution is not disputed at all. It is Law that applies directly and -through its introduction into the Greek legal order- it supersedes its formal scope.

Within this framework, Greece was not only determined but also obliged to provide facilitations of a supportive nature towards friendly and allied countries that invoked UNSCR 1973 and requested Greek support in order to be able to implement the Security Council Resolution and to impose the arms embargo and the no-fly zone for the sole purposes explicitly set out in that Resolution.

On the other hand Greece, as a NATO member was and always has been, determined to exercise its institutional rights, to participate in the co-formulation of NATO decisions and therefore, has always been in favor of activating NATO’s apparatus. Undoubtedly, that apparatus is more transparent, organized and controllable -because of the rule of unanimity- than an ad hoc coalition of countries.

That is why Greece complied with a request to declare what forces it made available to the Alliance, towards the goal of meeting NATO’s operational military requirements in the framework of the UNSCR. Greece said, from the beginning, and still does, that it is making available to NATO the military installations and facilities of Souda Bay base, of Aktion and Andravida airfields, a frigate (with its helicopter onboard) between the sea area of the island of Crete and Libya (that’s under national operating control) and an ERIEYE Early Warning Radar System embedded on an Embraer aircraft. This radar transmits its pictures to the Larissa CAOC (Combined Air Operations Center) and allows the latter to have a full and clear picture of the operational area. And of course, for the purpose of enforcing the arms embargo, Greece has made available a Combat Search and Rescue helicopter with Special Forces on board, in case services -Search and Rescue Services- under such conditions, become necessary.

This force availability concerns the arms embargo, the no-fly zone and now that we have the decision by the North Atlantic Council for the so-called no-fly zone plus, the same force availability concerns the entire scope of NATO operations that, in any case, are being implemented in parallel. The difference between the no-fly zone (the second NATO decision) and the no-fly zone plus (the third executive decision by the North Atlantic Council) is that now all the necessary measures for the implementation of the Security Council Resolution can be taken. That not only means an implementation of military measures against Libya’s air defenses –to render flights not possible- but also taking all the necessary measures for the protection of the unarmed population and for deploying military operations without any hindrances.

Despite having this upgrade in the “ambition level” of NATO operations, the level of our participation is what it is because we don’t see a reason it should be increased. We weighed all the parameters that I previously mentioned: the obligation to respect international legality, our obligation and choice to participate in the EU and NATO mainstream, our traditional ties with the Arab world, the fluctuations of the Arab League’s and the African Union’s public statements and our obvious geographical proximity to the area. Those parameters impose us to weigh things in a manner that protects Greece’s vital interests, without creating any security issues and at the same time to not expose in international criticism the country, something that could weaken the country’s strategic choices in its foreign policy and other policy areas.

On the other hand the requests that we have received –and still do- by friendly and allied countries to provide facilitations in the framework of the UN Security Council Resolution (before NATO’s operations became alive) included certain bases, certain Air Force airfields beyond the three airfields that we have made available to NATO. More specifically, there was Araxos airfield because a Belgian Air Force squadron –that happened to be there anyway for training purposes- wanted to become operational, and Greece had no reason not to facilitate the Belgian friends and allies and not to grant their request. The requests for the Souda Bay base increased, but that base had already been made available to NATO. So, there were requests for the Souda Bay base on a bilateral basis as well, beyond the Greek-American agreements for the base’s operational facilitations.

Moreover, there are American requests that have been made and are pending for facilitations in certain Air Force airfields beyond Souda Bay. That means beyond the framework of the Greek-American agreement for Souda Bay, but always within the framework of the UNSCR, and now, within the framework of NATO’s decision for the deployment of the three operations that I previously mentioned. At this point, I must clarify what the legal basis for those decisions is.

The legal basis of the Greek participation

The legal basis is the Constitution of the Hellenic Republic. It is Article 28 of the Constitution that provisions the relatively increased typical validity of International Law rules. Also, Article 28 section 2 of the Constitution stipulates that Greece can bestow, according to the Constitution, competencies in international organization bodies, especially when those organizations have their own law-making processes. In the EU, besides secondary law (Treaty Law) we have secondary law which is made of the rules and directives. The same applies for the UN, in which Greece participates since 1945, and is a law-making body. This law comes in the form of UN Security Council or UN General Assembly Resolutions.

According to the Greek legal order (according to law 92/67 that is still in force) the Resolutions of the UN Security Council constitute an International Law rule with increased typical validity and are published in the Government Gazette, something that has already been the case with UNSCR 1970 and now with UNSCR 1973. However, to the degree that abiding by the UNSCRs is an act of government policy, a non-judiciously-controlled political decision, a Presidential decree, is not necessary. The UNSCRs produce law with increased typical validity and are published in the Government Gazette (without that being necessary, as this is an outcome of the so-called dual perception in the national and international law relationship) and because of that they are in effect and applicable directly.

Therefore, this is the legal basis for Greece’s participation in NATO operations and this is the legal basis for providing facilitations to the countries that have asked us to, beyond the scope of bilateral or multilateral agreements currently in effect. A key bilateral agreement is the Souda Bay agreement with the US and a key multilateral agreement is the agreement that we have with NATO for providing host nation services to NATO operational activities that has been ratified and is in effect in the Greek legal order since 2008.

The cost of the Greek participation

Another serious matter that surfaces is whether Greece, within the framework of a fiscal crisis and the implementation of the program of financial reconstruction, would hesitate to participate in such activities, for financial reasons. I must tell you right from the start that such an issue does not exist. Our calculations, in net terms, of a theoretical and hypothetical, three-month, participation of Greece with the forces it has already made available and I previously described, costs € 20 million. So, if the available assets are fully deployed, the monthly cost is approximately € 6 million. This is the fiscal dimension of this matter.

Sensitive national issues

Are there issues that are particularly sensitive from a Greek perspective and have to do with the deployed or under-deployment operations of the Coalition or of NATO? The answer is yes, and that is the reason that our choices are choices that take under consideration, first and foremost, Greece’s national priorities which are synchronized and parallelized with its international commitments. I would say that the first topic that preoccupied us is the issue of respect for the air traffic rules, according to the ICAO Convention. That is the question on whether inside the Athens FIR area of responsibility every military aircraft of the Alliance or the Coalition must submit flight plans and inform, according to Greece’s wishes, the Hellenic Civil Aviation Authority. The answer in that question as well is yes and all aircrafts that operate out of, not just Greek but out of any, airport submit to the Hellenic Civil Aviation Authority and Eurocontrol flight plans and the necessary data for the safety of civil aviation flights

A second question is whether the implementation of the arms embargo, of the naval blockade of Libya –considering also the fact that our neighbor and friend, Turkey, has made a very generous offer of forces to NATO to participate in the naval blockade operation, with 4 frigates and one submarine- constitutes a potential problem of any sort in relation to maritime zones of Greek interest, in relation to the maritime zones of the Continental Shelf and the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). The answer is that nothing in this operation imposes any direct or indirect problem in relation to the maritime zones of Greek interest in the way that Greece views them and calculates them.

An additional question which made it to the press is whether in the current command structure of NATO -and more specifically in the command of this particular operation under SACEUR- creates any problems that affect Larrisa’s CAOC-7. The question is whether Greece is satisfied by the fact that the command of the air forces is exercised by CAOC-5 in Italy or whether our country would be happier if that role fell under CAOC-7’s responsibility which, in this case, has a full picture because it is linked directly to NATO and because Greece has the ERIEYE system transmitting to it. In other words, whether Greece would have the wish or the ambition to play, through CAOC-7, an even more active role.

It is clear that Greece must find a strategic balance point. We have to make clear whether Greece’s participation must be of a supportive nature, or if we want a more active participation that reaches to the point of Greece directing the air operations in Libya. Hence, I think, that the present balance point is totally satisfactory. The vast majority of the air forces that operate is in Italy or further more to the west. That means that 78% of the forces operate out of Italy and France. In any case, the alternate CAOC (Combined Air Operations Center) is Larissa’s and we think that this is a totally satisfactory role for Greece in terms of the overall balance of the Greek participation in these operations.

At this point -pre-empting any corresponding remarks- I’d like to say that the so-called Izmir CCR is not the same entity as CAOCs. It’s the same entity to NATO’s Allied Maritime Command in Naples. It has an American Lt. General as Commanding Officer, not a Turkish officer. It is connected to SACEUR and the Naples joint commander entirely. Given this fact, there are no comparisons. In a few weeks, we will talk about the state of negotiations within NATO about the new command structure. What I’d like to remind you here is that the previous command structure, the one that was active until the Lisbon Summit took place, was never completed.

One of the reasons that it was never completed is because this Government, as I have previously briefed you on, thought that a structure of brass officers allocation that would lead Larissa’s CAOC having a Turkish general in command should not be implemented. Greece wants NATO entities in the southern flank to not create any additional technical or artificial problems. We don’t want to see tense situations. Greece wants to see this region have the same rules as all other NATO regions. We don’t accept the logic of special circumstances or special rules. From this point of view, the operation in Libya, which certainly aggravates the international situation in our region too, has some noteworthy positive aspects. I mentioned one of them previously with what I said about the Athens FIR.

What is the solution we want?

A military operation is an exception and should be a short exception. The solution to Libya’s problem can not be a military one. The solution will be political and diplomatic and aims at –according to the clear provisions of the UN Security Council- protecting the non-combatant population and the unhindered deployment of humanitarian operations. But it should slowly lead to, as per the Resolution, the formulation of a viable and widely acceptable political solution that will respect the unity, integrity and national sovereignty of Libya. Greece fully accepts this principle. We want a diplomatic and political solution that will respect Libya’s national integrity and national sovereignty and the right of Libyans to make their own free choices in a democratic way, within a framework of protection for human rights and the rule of law and, through that, to shape the future of the country and all the other countries in the region, something that Greece is very interested in.

Greece has no colonial past or energy-related interests in Libya. Its financial presence in Libya is limited. Our motive is principle-based. It is related to the respect of International Law, of international legality, of human rights, of universal principles and of Democracy. Of course, there’s always a question: why is there some sensitivity imprinted in the UNSCR and in the initiatives by the western allies and NATO on Libya? Why hasn’t this been the case in the past, in Sudan or in Rwanda? Why is this the case with Libya and is not something that could be an issue for countries of the same or the wider region?

My answer at this point is that each country has its own problems. The fact that International Law rules apply in a country, as well as the fact that some sort of international sensitivity is being expressed does not make Greece lose its reflexes and cease to understand the reality of the international balance of power and realism that, oftentimes, turns into international cynicism. These things exist. International perception and practices do not change. But on the other hand we have to have some points of reference in our policy. The first is invoking some principles. If we deviate from this principles, then we will lose every balance and every perspective in our effort to promote the major issues that define the agenda of our national priorities. That is why we must be, I think, as cautious and balanced as possible, to be as sober and calm as possible in handling such issues. This is the kind of management that we are involved in.

The Foreign Minister, Mr. Droutsas, participates today in the Conference on Libya in London. You might have heard from the media that ahead of this Conference, French President Sarkozy and British Prime Minister Cameron released a joint statement yesterday that defines the framework of today’s initiative. There will be a meeting of NATO Foreign Ministers with the participation of countries involved in the operations in Libya, such as Qatar and the UAE. There will also be, later, an international meeting with more broad participation, such as the UN, the EU, the Arab League, the African Union and possibly the Organization of the Islamic Conference, in order to formulate a Libyan strategy and create a contact group. Within this framework, Greece can play an important role, mainly as a country that can host and coordinate operations of a humanitarian nature.

I remind you that there are still 2.2 million foreign citizens in Libya and that a large number of citizens that have fled Libya and look for ways of repatriation are concentrated in Tunisia. Those are mainly Egyptian and Bangladeshi nationals. I’d also like to remind you that the EU has been mobilized and the procedures of the Common Security and Defense Policy in the humanitarian areas are being implemented. A European humanitarian operation is being formed, one that Greece is eager to take part in. Also, it is obvious that over the next few days other issues that concern humanitarian operations in Libyan territory will also be put on the table, always according to the UN Security Council Resolution.

Greece does not take any aggressive action. Our frigate participates under the rules of engagement that I have issued, in the framework of the relevant decision of the KYSEA and the recommendation by the Chairman of the Hellenic National Defense General Staff. Those rules of engagement leave no room for danger or pose high risk for our personnel, because the ship inspections that the frigate will participate in are voluntary. The frigate will not enter in Libya’s territorial waters or airspace without proper clearance by the authorities that exercise the true and effective field control under International Law.

Also, I’d like to say that matters related to other types of humanitarian operations in Libya or to the control of the Benghazi airport -something that seems to pre-occupy Turkish PM Erdogan a lot in his public statements- have not been resolved, or even discussed, at a NATO level. I’d also like to note that Turkey’s naval forces that have been declared as available are just that at the moment, available, but so far their participation in the NATO operation has not been cleared. On the contrary, Greece’s frigate is already in the area under NATO command and has taken over the oversight or an area close to Sirte. Also under consideration should be taken the fact that the port the frigate will later dock to is Souda Bay, one of the two most proximate ports that have the ability to adequately support and dock such warships.

NATO and EU reflexes

This is how the situation looks like until now, in political-military terms. Following the Lisbon Summit, this is the first time that NATO and the EU are called upon to manage such a crisis in political-military terms. I cannot declare that we are happy, that I personally am happy, by the level of political maturity and determination and by the EU reflexes. Or even NATO’s [reflexes]. What is clear here is that we have to wait for a long time until those regional entities mature institutionally, even though they are old enough already –they have or about to have a 60-year-old history. The true international balance is formulated in other ways, in different velocities, without the institutional clarity of the regional organizations that we participate in.

But this is an historic problem that, as is known, is ongoing unfortunately. In any case, the EU member-states that are also UN Security Council permanent members do not speak in the name of the EU but in their own national name. This was evident by the fact that Germany took a different path in this particular case. Germany, of course, has the financial gravity and easiness to differentiate itself. Greece is a medium-size European country that has its own priorities and sensitivities and that is the reason it makes its own choices by calculating –correctly I’d like to think- the true international and European and Mediterranean balance of power.

Tags: Parliament